The cost of existing
An honest account of the impact of the cost of living crisis from an anonymous Welsh writer.
I grasp at thin air as my searching hand reaches for precious coins long forgotten behind our well worn sofa. I already know there’s nothing there. It’s the third time this week I’ve checked.
In the kitchen, I search out dusty old tins of kidney beans and peas which have been forced to the back of a cupboard. I find a tin of soup which went out of date a month ago. I move to the bin, then pause and put it back down. It’s only a month, I’ll eat it if I have to.
How did my life end up this way? My partner and I have always worked. We were once so stable and would have happy discussions about our shared ambitions, hopes and dreams.
We would smile at the very thought of one day living in a stunning rural Welsh town, maybe with some land to grow veg and keep chickens. Now I can barely even afford food, let alone save for a forever home.
I start constructing a shopping list. I add fruit, veg and packed lunch items for my young daughter. My partner and I have been going without fruit in order to stretch the food budget further.
Last year wasn’t like this. We didn’t need overdrafts or strict budgets. We were even able to afford a short holiday in Hay on Wye, the town of books. We were happy. We lived.
Our gas and electricity bill now eats into what was once a healthy food budget. The cost of milk alone has risen by almost 48%. I’ve turned off all the radiators in the rooms that my daughter doesn’t use. My office and bedroom are freezing.
Non existent cash
My siblings and I have agreed not to exchange gifts this Christmas. The assurance that each of us doesn’t have to scrape together non existent cash and tumble into sleepless nights to fund presents is gift enough for us.
On the weekend when it’s lunchtime, my daughter always asks why I’m not eating with her. I tell her I’m busy, I’m writing, I’ll eat later. I know the time is drawing near when I will have to reach out for help.
I take my list to a nearby supermarket and pray the ticket guard doesn’t charge me for the train journey. He does. It knocks £3.50 off my dwindling budget.
The supermarket entrance is crowded with volunteers wearing tabards that say “Food Bank”. They are handing out leaflets which list items they desperately need. Pasta, rice, tinned food. I feel sick with guilt as I duck my head down low to avoid the leaflet givers.
A smiling volunteer sees me and holds out a leaflet.
I stumble over my words and don’t know what to say. My eyes fill will tears and I look around hoping no one has noticed. Then the admission boils out of me like a dormant volcano that’s finally ready to erupt.
“I can’t afford food myself. I don’t know what to do. I think I need help.”
The volunteer reaches out and squeezes my arm tight.
“It’s ok, lots of people are stopping and asking for help. Don’t ever feel embarrassed. We aren’t getting as many donations this year and we understand why.”
I tell her I’m sorry and awkwardly look down at the list she had handed to me. I tell her I will try to donate something if I can. She shakes her head and smiles.
“Listen lovely, it’s not your fault. I can’t afford my bills either. I’m using the food bank too.”
She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a card with the food banks contact details. She’s come prepared. She knew people would need help. I take it and squeeze her arm back and go inside for my shopping. A basket will do, I haven’t been able to fill a trolley since August.
On the way out, the volunteer nods her head. A silent gesture that binds us both as survivors of a situation we can’t change. I nod back and place a supermarket own brand bag of pasta into the donation bin.
The volunteer smiles, but her eyes look sad.
At home I turn the food bank card over in my hands. I jam it in my pocket when my daughter walks in. I’ve been so careful to hide any stresses from her.
Last week she was gleeful as she polished off a cookie and spun in circles until she was dizzy in the grounds of a beautiful Welsh castle. What she doesn’t know is the castle grounds were free to visit. The cookie a reward for downloading a fast-food chain app.
Hard weather is on its way to my tiny Welsh village. Usually, I’d embrace the festive season with a frosty walk with my family, bundled up in thick coats, hot chocolates in hand with happiness pink on our cold cheeks.
I look at the food bank card again and place it in my empty purse. I open my online banking account and apply to extend my overdraft. This is the fifth time I’ve extended it in the last few months.
When I click submit, the usual, “Your overdraft is now ready to use” message doesn’t appear.
Instead, “YOU NEED TO CALL YOUR BANK” flashes harshly across my phone screen. When I close my eyes at night, it burns into the back of my eyelids. I toss and turn. I can’t sleep.
This is not living, this is existing.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.